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COURTSIDE - by Mark Teich

Basic Training
The most basic goal of conditioning is fitness. Though the term has been loosely used, fitness is the foundation on which all successful athletic performance is built. To become fit, an athlete must first develop a strong, healthy body and then fine-tune the specific physical requirements-great endurance, say, for a distance runner. The point is not to turn a parakeet into a condor but to develop the abilities an athlete already has.

Dr. Stewart Staley, who in 1941 co-founded the renowned Physical Fitness Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois in Springfield, says the concept of physical fitness was practically nonexistent until the 1930s. There were only two or three noteworthy training institutions in the country, and conditioning was not part of the public consciousness -it was mostly limited to calisthenics and gymnastics classes taught in YMCAs and public schools.

Today, however, fitness has a broader connotation. With sports institutions and training programs emerging throughout the country, with every form of media proclaiming the value of exercise , we are in the middle of a fitness boom. According to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, often considered the father of the fitness revolution, the number of runners in the U.S. has grown from 100,000 to 34,000,000 since he published his first book, Aerobics , in 1968. Furthermore, says Cooper, 59 percent of all Americans 18 years of age and older now devote time to some form of regular exercise.

Though Cooper and his medical contemporaries will not come right out and claim that firness prolongs life--they do say it improves quality of life--the evidence seems strong. Cooper says that there has been a 28 percent decrease in strokes and heart disease since 1968, and that the average life span has increased from 70 to 75 years over that same period. Ostensibly, exercise has played an Important part in increasing longevity since it directly reduces many risk factors contributing to injury, disease and death. As California exercise physiologist Michael Boschetti points out, strength training exercises such as weight lifting can slow the aging of the bones. "The bones are living tissue. When you put weight on tissues and systematically overload them, you cause them to produce more blood and calcium. The added calcium can keep the bones from becoming brittle, preventing problems with backaches and osteoporosis. "

Moreover, most doctors and physiologists agree that endurance (aerobic) activities such as running or swimming can lead to a healthier, more efficient cardiovascular system. I By forcing the heart to pump at a faster rate, exercise increases the blood flow to the extremities and back, ultimately opening up the blood vessels and making them more elastic. The arteries are thus kept free of clogging debris that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. At the same time, exercise stimulates development of new blood vessels that improve circulation. (It was these corollary vessels that probably saved Arthur Ashe after his heart attack in 1979.) This enhanced blood flow carries greater quantities of nourishing oxygen to the lungs and other parts of the body.

Most important, the heart is strengthened. Like most muscles, the heart is slowly conditioned by exercise to handle a larger workload without being exhausted or injured. As the heart muscle develops it can I produce greater blood volume with each stroke, doing less work to produce the same result. Thus, following exercise, the pulse rate will return to a safe, standing level far more quickly. It is during the recovery period, Cooper points out, when a weak heart may be most likely to succumb to an attack. Endurance exercise also burns up fat to produce energy. This not only controls weight and blood pressure but reduces the burden on the heart. In the process, it lowers the level of dangerous triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins ("bad" cholesterol in the blood), while raising the concentration of high- density lipoproteins ("good" cholesterol, which counteracts the "bad" cholesterol). All of this lowers the risk of heart attacks.

Certainly, modern medical treatments and insights about nutrition, drinking and smoking have increased the average life span. The emphasis on exercise has also played a central role in keeping people vigorous in later life. Even many of the world's renowned athletes are learning that proper conditioning can extend their active years.
It would seem that professional athletes, of all people, should have made these discoveries about fitness long ago, but many clung to the notion that they could work themselves into playing shape during the regular season. Baseball is full of stories about stars who ate themselves across the country via the banquet circuit during the winter. Never looking at a baseball for four or five months, they showed up for spring training overweight and had to pound away at their bodies to get in shape. Sometimes most of the season passed before they regained their form. These yearly shocks to their systems eventually wore down their resilience, ending their careers prematurely.

Fitness pioneer Dudley Sergeant, who directed the School of Physical Training in Cambridge, Massachusetts for 35 years, used to say that half the struggle for physical training has been won when a student can be induced to take an interest in his own body conditioning. The other half of the battle is figuring out how to proceed sensibly.

Training must be strenuous but not abusive. Running ten miles on the first day of a conditioning program is inadvisable and dangerous. On the other hand, just sitting down on an exercise bicycle and reading a newspaper won't make anyone an athlete. A U.S. I Department of Health and Human Services study recently showed that self-delusion about fitness is rampant. Eighty percent of those polled said they exercised regularly--0nly one-third of them, however, actually exercised enough to make real fitness gains.

The problem, explains renowned sports chiropractor Leroy Perry, director of the International Sportsmedicine Institute in Los Angeles, is that most athletes don't understand their own bodies, and consequently know little about just what exercises will give them the best benefits. An unfortunate example is Jim Fixx, the well-known running authority, who died on a run. Fixx, despite three I separate heart attacks and his voluminous knowledge of exercise physiology, kept running hundreds of miles year after year, ignoring his family's history of heart fatalities. Fixx refused to take a cardiac stress I test or to slacken his running program. One of his arteries was 85 percent blocked, but Fixx believed that if he could run all those marathons he must be healthy. One day following a run he had a fourth heart attack and died instantly.

The Point is not that running long distances is dangerous, but that Fixx should have found out if it was good for him in his condition. The first step for anyone undertaking a serious exercise program, especially someone over 35 years old, should be a complete physical checkup, including a treadmill stress test. The more thorough the examination, the better the individual will understand his strengths, weaknesses and needs. One can then set up a safe, effective program. Depending on the particular fitness goals and competitive desires, the individual may want to focus mainly on developing power, stamina or agility. Whatever the emphasis, training should be broken into three broad areas: strength training (anaerobic conditioning), endurance training (aerobic conditioning) and flexibility training (stretching the muscles).
If sports scientists have learned anything in recent years, it is how vital balanced fitness is in athletics. No matter what an athlete's talents, they will be diminished by flaws in his conditioning program. Witness the old Australian champion Ron Clarke, who held world records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter runs, despite having no finishing speed whatsoever. Clarke lost a lot of races in the final 200 yards. If he'd developed strength in his thighs and gluteus and upper body, he might have improved his sprinting power enough to hold off many rivals who kicked by him. And if John McEnroe worried more about endurance training, he might not have squandered a two-set lead to Ivan Lendl in the 1984 French Op final. Instead the cornerstones of 1 game--his craftiness, quickness at finesse--melted into so much vichyssoise soup when he ran out 0 steam under the Parisian sun. Once an athlete is committed to all-around conditioning, he or she faced with developing a suitable program. This can be a complex proposition since there is no exercise
or piece of equipment that can' t develop strength, endurance and f flexibility simultaneously. Everyone is aware of the confusing variety of fitness strategies that are currently on the market. There are clubs and spas, gewgaws and machines, videotapes and records, experts and more experts. Each product or technique is heralded as the best, the most innovative, the most all- encompassing. The barrage of possibilities can be discouraging. There is no single path to fitness. With some guidance, in fact, a person can bypass the space-age toys and gimmicks, and custom design his own program using nothing more than his body. A combination of simple calisthenics such as jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, running in places and stretches can keep anyone in shape. The rest is gravy. But gravy shouldn't be
underestimated-it makes a lot of things more palatable. Dave Ellis, national sales manager for Amerec, which manufactures a respected line of rowing machines and stationary bicycles, agrees: "We give people motivation. The main motivation comes not from possessing something shiny and new, but from the modern delight in quantification. The high-tech era in fitness has been spawned mostly by time and cost-effectiveness. We demand shortcuts that will make them the most awesome specimens in the least amount of time. Thus, the recent history of fitness has been a quest to make conditioning more precisely measurable."

It was Dr. Cooper who first tapped into this sensibility in 1968 when he brandished the term aerobics. Until then the word was mostly relegated to microbiology, as in "aerobic bacteria. " But the book Aerobics delivered it to the common man, bringing science to the world of fitness.

Cooper's Aerobics Point System, complete with easy tables based on age and sex, provided a convenient, accessible method of measuring the value of exercise and of modifying it ! to get the greatest benefits. For the first time an individual could take a run or swim of a certain length then figure out just what he had achieved for his body when he got home. Each workout earned a certain number of aerobic points, arid at the end of the week, if enough points
had been amassed, the athlete knew he'd made inroads to fitness.

The center of this new aerobic universe was the cardiovascular system. For Cooper, fitness meant an efficient heart, ample veins and a strong set of lungs. The key to all of them was oxygen flow. By definition, aerobic means only in the presence of oxygen; aerobic exercise is that which requires a sustained oxygen supply. A weight lifter can bench press 1000 pounds and a sprinter can run a 40-yard dash without taking a breath, so these are essentially anaerobic
exercises, requiring no significant amount of oxygen. But an endurance athlete must constantly consume great amounts of air.
Exercise demanding this steady, .heightened intake and expulsion of oxygen formed the basis of Cooper's program, since it was the only exercise that could systematically condition the heart and lungs.

According to the American " College of Sports Medicine, the target zone for aerobic exercise is generally considered to be 60 to 90 percent of the maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate, which varies from person to person, can be determined by a cardiac stress test. Or it can be roughly estimated by subtracting the individual's age from 220. Thus, the target Zone for a 40- year-old would be 60 to 90 percent of 180, or about 108 to 162 beats per minute. His pulse should rise to these levels after a few minutes of exercise and should stay toward the lower end of his target zone, but as conditioning improves, he can safely intensify the exercise. The fItter the individual becomes, though, the harder he will have to work to achieve a higher rate, since the heart will be beating more and more efficiently.

 





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